Well, I wish that I had more to tell you about what has been going on for the past two weeks since I completed Mid-Terms but not much has honestly happened besides a lot of movies being watched and a lot of readings being finished. I have made a few Peruvian friends finally in one of my classes, which means that I will steadily get more until I know every Peruvian ever. My oldest host brother is visiting from the US for the summer break and he’s a cool guy. We’re both the same age and both have a lot of the same interests which is really cool. In Lima it has officially become “winter” which just means that it’s grey almost all the time with a lot of fog. It’s kind of depressing to be here now, especially when I know that back home it’s about 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Also many of my friends from back home are returning from Study abroad. The weather here really keeps you down and it’s now really easy to get a cold because of the colder air and the amount of moisture in it. I’ve already gotten a cold from just the minimal time it has been “winter”. I’m struggling to believe that it’s almost June already. I almost have a month left here, feels like it flew by. Still a lot of stuff to do also. I have a trip to a town called Carmen coming up, the town is one of the areas with the largest population of Afro-peruano culture so it should be really interesting. After that trip it’s pretty much a straight shot to finals. Which is crazy to think that I’m this close to having finals. Well for today I have my volunteering at CEDED and afterwards I will be calling home to speak to my mother and father. A nice and relaxing day after a long week of classes.
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And just like that, I am back in Indiana.
Since my last post, I finished up my final papers (WAHOO!), traveled to Poland and France with my dad, said bye to my friends, and flew back to the good ol’ US of A.
It’s kind of hard to comprehend that my semester in Leeds has ended, and that I am actually back on U.S. soil again. I never knew that five months could go so quickly, but I can easily say that studying abroad was the best decision I have made since going to Vanderbilt.
This should probably be my longest blog post out of all of them since I feel like I have so much to say, but I think it may be one of my shortest. Although I have grown so much, it is difficult to convey the depth of such change. All I can tell you is that is has entirely changed my life for the better, and I would not trade these last five months for anything. I met incredible people, went to incredible places, ate incredible food, and watched a lot of Modern Family. How could you get any better than that?
So if there is anyone out there who is on the fence about studying abroad, DO IT. Don’t hesitate at all. There are life-changing experiences just waiting to happen to you – you just have to take the plunge. Obviously not all of it will be perfect, and I hope that my blog has represented both the highs and lows of being abroad, but even the lows make it worth it. Those are sometimes the moments when you learn the most.
So to conclude my final blog post, I would like to thank my friends and family who have read this blog, and who made my semester so incredible. I am a very lucky gal.
Good luck to all who plan to study abroad in the future!!
“I soon realized that no journey carries one far, unless, as it extends into the world around us, it goes an equal distance into the world within” – Lillian Smith
Until Next Time,
P.S. I am including some pictures from my final weeks in Leeds/Europe. I hope you enjoy them!
My friend and I at a Manchester United game!
Day trip to York!
Fun night at the Old Bar in the University of Leeds Student Union!
Notre Dame Cathedral
My dad’s birthday dinner in Paris!
Final afternoon tea with my friends in Leeds! They are amazing
The school work continues and finals are just around the corner, but let me touch upon a few of the highlights of the last couple weeks in Sydney.
On May 4th, a few of my roommates and I took the train into the city to visit the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) and Circular Quay in general. I truly cannot get enough of Circular Quay’s atmosphere. There really isn’t anything like it. I bought some gelato, enjoyed some window shopping, listened to some street performers, and walked around the MCA. Here are some photos from on the way to and at the MCA:
On May 8th, my new IFSA-Butler advisor Fiona took all of the Macquarie University students including myself out to lunch at the nearby mall. We ordered drinks and many different kinds of pizza at Pizza Crust. I have noticed that pizzas are very elaborate in Australia compared to America. What is considered plain pizza often has a lot of extra spices on it. I definitely don’t have a problem with this though–I love my spices and toppings! My favorite pizza was the vegetable pizza which had an unidentifiable neon green sauce on it that tasted not far from a mixture of honey mustard dressing and pesto. After pizza, we all got gelato or coffee drinks for dessert. I ordered a blended iced coffee drink and it was AMAZING. I’m really missing my Keurig machine here in Australia. A lot of the coffee is instant and it’s simply not the same unless you order a coffee at a cute cafe or Pie Face (which are EVERYWHERE!). But paying $4+ for a good cup of coffee definitely adds up. It sounds so silly but I can’t wait to have a basic iced coffee from Dunkin Donuts when I get back to the States. As much as I enjoy the vanilla ice cream scoop that Australians put in their iced coffee, sometimes it is just too much and I just want ice cubes. Coffee with ice cream is delicious as a dessert, but not as a pick-me-up. Anyway, here’s a photo of the Macquarie University, IFSA-Butler students at Pizza Crust!
A few days later, my roommates and I, along with my neighbors ,went into the city for a night out in Sydney. We went to The Orient, where a bunch of the IFSA-Butler students and I had spent a few nights out during our IFSA-Butler orientation. Karaoke was available to all and a few of my friends decided to sign up and give it a try. There were thousands of songs to choose from and it was a blast to watch and listen to them. Some of my friends can sing! I’d love to go back.
The 15th of May, my roommates and I went to Paddy’s market again and I bought some delicious cheap trail mixes. My favorite one was a “pea mix” with wasabi peas, BBQ peas, and more. YUM! Afterwards, we went to the beautiful Chinese Gardens at Darling Harbour, which I was happy to find out only cost three Australian dollars. Pictures don’t really do it justice but here’s a bunch!
The last couple of days I have been planning a trip to New Zealand with one of my roommates from IFSA-Butler! We plan on traveling from Christchurch to Queenstown after we are done with finals! I absolutely cannot wait, especially for our Milford Sound day trip. I’m so lucky to have so many wonderful opportunities.
Recently a couple of friends and I headed up to St. Andrews University (a little over an hour’s drive from Edinburgh) for their Jewish Society/Alpha Epsilon Pi Fraternity’s first annual Matzah Ball. Matzah Ball was a black tie event for Jews in universities from all over the UK to congregate and mingle, celebrating our common faith and culture. Since being in Edinburgh, I have made several Jewish friends through the University’s Jewish Society, or, as we call it, “J Soc.” J Soc is a small, motley crew that meets for a bagel lunch once a week, consisting mainly of international students from America, with a few Australians and Europeans in the mix. My J Soc friends are a great group on their own, however, we were all eager to meet some British/Scottish Jews, and so about five days before the event, decided we would go to the ball.
This relatively last minute decision was followed by a scramble over logistics and details: How would we get to St. Andrews? Where would we stay? What would we wear?! Much chaos ensued, but by Thursday evening all was worked out for Friday night’s party.
Or so we thought. On Thursday night all guests received an email informing us that the Matzah Ball’s location had been changed. Rather than the posh St. Andrews Golf Hotel advertised on the Facebook event, the location was now secret. Taxis would arrive at a pregame held at the home of one of the event hosts to transport all guests to the undisclosed site.
You may think this sounds like the sketchiest scenario ever, or as the Scots say, “a wee bit dodgy.” My friends and I had the same reaction; we emailed the hosts for more information. They responded that this sudden change of plans was in reaction to threats from student Palestinian groups on St. Andrews’ campus. Apparently, the hotel had refused to host the event after the Palestinian group had issued threats against the Jews of St. Andrews. After calling multiple other venues, the Matzah Ball hosts were eventually able to find a space able/willing to accommodate them.
The Ball ended up being a blast, among my top three evenings in Scotland. Complete with unbelievably friendly students, whisky, and traditional Scottish and Jewish dancing (ceilidhs and horahs), it was an exceptional cultural experience that I’m unlikely ever to replicate. However, I was appalled at the reaction of the various Palestinian students and hotels in the St. Andrews area. Until then, I had not encountered any Anti-Semitism in Edinburgh or the UK at all, and have never had any such experiences in the States. I write this not to discourage any potential Jewish students from going to Scotland; I have loved my time here and have felt perfectly safe and welcome throughout the duration of my stay. If anything, I have more Jewish American/Australian friends here than I do in the US. Rather, I blog about it merely to document it among my more profound cultural confrontations and give my readers pause to reflect on whether such a situation would have played out in America.
For more information about the event, read this article published by the St. Andrews student newspaper a couple of weeks ago: http://www.thesaint-online.com/2013/04/jewish-charity-ball-goes-ahead-despite-threats-from-palestine-activists/
So, I’ve found myself aboard various boats lately, much more so than I ever have before. Why is this? I haven’t the slightest clue.
Two trips I would like to talk about on the previously mentioned vessels include the Milford and Doubtful Sounds. Oi, I’ve got some explaining to do.
Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound are both ‘sounds.’ ”WHAT IS A SOUND?” You may be asking yourself. According to the good people at Wikipedia, a sound is ”a long, relatively wide body of water, larger than a strait or channel, forming an inlet or connecting two larger bodies of water, such as two seas, or a sea and a lake.” In short – it’s water that runs through some land and connects two big bodies of water. Now you know what a sound is!
…unfortunately, Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound are both actually fjords, so I, uh, made you learn all of that for nothing. Now, I know you may be saying, “Jake! Why are you such a jerk? Why do you string us along and make us learn inapplicable definitions? Why? Why?! And what is this ‘fjord’ that you speak of? Did you make a typo? I’m not sure I can even pronounce that!” The reason, my dear tormented-reader, is that I wish to enrich you with knowledge, because that’s what I do. Also, everyone still calls these two particular places ‘sounds,’ and now, whether you are on Jeopardy or at your next dinner party, you will be able to tell everyone that these famous ‘sounds’ are actually fjords! Oh right. A fjord (pronounced f-your-d) is “a long, narrow inlet with steep sides or cliffs, created in a valley carved by glacial activity.” Basically, a big ol’ hunk of ice, over millions of years, cut through a chunk of land, so that humans could later squabble over definitions and geological. Glaciers are sort of jerks, huh?
So, regardless of what you choose to call them, they are both essentially (now) long stretches of water meandering through enormous mountains. These are also known as THE MOST BEAUTIFUL SCENES OF NATURE I HAVE EVER HAD THE PRIVILEGE OF SETTING MY EYES UPON.
Now, as I have mentioned, Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound are different places (though not terribly far apart from each other), and I visited each of them on different weeks. It can take 3-5 hours to drive out to them from Dunedin, depending on the weather, as you don’t want to go careening down the windy roads on a rainy day. We were fortunate to experience these two unique places on two VERY different occasions.
We first visited Milford, the slightly smaller, but much more famous ‘sound’ (it was considered the world’s top travel destination in an international survey by the 2008 Travelers’ Choice Destinations Awards by TripAdvisor), on that same weekend that I tried bungy jumping and all of those other death-defying feats – but that’s a different blog entirely. I’ll save us all some time. It rained a whole lot. It rained as we boarded the boat. It rained as we took off into the yawning chasm between the mountains. It rained as we rounded the wind turbine, which pelted those fools (me) who decided to stand on the top deck of the boat with such a fury, that it’s a wonder how I held on to my glasses. Yes folks, it rained, and apparently, it usually does, as Milford Sound only sees about sixty days of sunshine in a good year.
Swinging in the rain.
Despite this deluge, our spirits were not dampened (pun intended), as there are waterfalls that stream down the mountains that are only visible when it rains.
In contrast to my visit to Milford, my trip through Doubtful Sound lasted over a full day, rather than a few hours. We stayed in cabins aboard the ship, and had several wonderful meals during our stay – it was a class act.
Also unlike Milford, our day on Doubtful Sound was absolutely beautiful, clear, and warm (by Dunedin standards).
One of my favorite parts about this particular cruise was that, since it was an overnight event, I was able to go outside and look at the stars. I have never seen them so bright and numerous as they were that night, on account of the absence of all man-made ambient lighting. Sam and I stared into the sky for hours, admiring for the first time what was always right in front of us. Perhaps that’s what it’s all about. I’d like for you to see this, but no picture I could take could capture that moment and all of its glory – I’d much rather you find it for yourself.
You thought field trips were just for elementary school?
A couple of weeks ago, my Spanish class took a day field-trip to Sarchi, Costa Rica. Sarchi Norte is the main town of Valverde Vega in the province of Alajuela in Costa Rica, and it’s known as one of the most famous craft centers of the country.
The most popular crafts are the traditional painted carts that were used in the past for carrying coffee from the mountains to the Pacific ports.
My class visited the Fabrica de Carretas founded by Eloy Alfaro to learn about these fascinating carts. In 1920, Don Eloy Alfaro started his oxcart factory in Sarchi. The genius of Don Eloy allowed the installation of an efficient hydraulic energy system that generates horsepower, powered by the nearby Trojan River, which sets in motion all the machinery required in the workshop.
The typical oxcart of Costa Rica is now declared as a national symbol, and the decoration of each wagon is considered the ultimate expression of popular art for the Costa Rican people.
My class walked through the factory, learned the history, and saw the painters at work as they spent hours upon hours painting the famous carts. The owners even set up a painting session for our class so we were able to paint our own “wheels!”
We also got the chance to see the biggest Oxcart in the world that was built in the Eloy Alfaro Oxcart Factory. About 10 people worked on its construction and decoration for 3 straight months. It is now registered in the Guinness World Record book!
“Keeping alive the tradition of oxcart manufacturing, since 1923 through a system that protects our environment.”
After all the emotion of the first couple weeks of April I was in desperate need of a getaway. Although I would have preferred a week or two at home in the States, I instead found myself in Istanbul, Turkey. For the Coptic Easter holiday, IFSA students were offered the first 11 days of May off from school. This was our longest break of the semester so this was really our only chance for a big trip outside of Egypt, anywhere we could afford to go. Since we are already half way across the world it would have been silly to pass up the opportunity for cheap airfare. It really was a once in a lifetime chance to go experience a completely new country on our own. Initially I assumed the 5 of us would all go together on this adventure but the IFSA gang split once Emily and Dhruv decided to fly to Morocco on their own. Sarah was lucky enough to have friends to stay with in Australia so she went there. As for Matt and I, it was between Greece, Cyprus, and Turkey. With Greece on the Euro we soon found out that spending two weeks there would be well out of our price range. And with Cyprus experiencing so much unrest we booked our non-refundable (though surprisingly cheap) ticket to Turkey. I was so excited to go. I needed something to take my mind off the long month that still remained, the inevitably of finals quickly looming ahead of us, as well as all the emotions built up as a result of the tragedy in Boston and homesickness.
And so, on April 30th I was up bright and early on the train headed for Cairo. Once Matt had his passport (his was stolen a few weeks back so we had to go to the embassy to pick up his new one) and we ate an awesome dinner at our favorite restaurant near the IFSA apartments in Cairo (GAD), the trip was off to a good start. Matt was euphoric to finally have a passport in his pocket again and once I eat I always feel better haha. But the moment we stepped into the taxi on our way to the airport our happy getaway turned into an all-too-real nightmare. Everybody knows in Cairo, or should know, that foreigners HAVE TO take taxis with meters, otherwise the consequences WILL undoubtedly be costly. Before we got in I asked if the taxi had a meter, he said yes, I saw the meter and we began loading our bags. Once in the car, not two minutes after we started driving I realized the meter was not working. I asked the driver about it and sure enough, it wasn’t. BIG PROBLEM. The next 4 hours would have changed drastically if we had just gotten out right then. But we didn’t. Next thing that happened was our driver began pulling over asking people on the street for directions on how to get to the airport. Picture the two of us, stuck in a taxi with no meter, with a guy who has no idea how to get to the airport. Perfect. We left at 5:30pm. Our flight was supposed to leave at 8:15pm. That gave us about 1 hour to get to the airport. Which is what we had been told was plenty of time by many people. An hour and 30 minutes later we finally see the airport. This is when I get frustrated with myself. Neither Matt nor I knew which terminal we were flying out of but the second we passed it we knew we were headed the wrong way. I tried with all my might to explain to the driver in Arabic to turn around but my vocabulary failed me. Once at the (wrong) terminal we hopped out in a rush when the driver, naturally, demands 200 EGP for the trip. Keep in mind with a meter this should be around 45/50 EGP. I was beyond furious. I argued with him, in Arabic keep in mind, for a good 5 minutes. I would not back down. If I had not been so rushed I believe Matt and I could have done better but we had to go so we settled for 90 EGP. Feeling ripped off we clamored into the terminal and discovered that, of course, we were at the wrong one. Luckily there was a free shuttle so we didn’t have to deal with another taxi driver. With the seconds feeling like hours we waited and finally got to the correct terminal. Bumbling about we got through initial security and found the check-in desk about 45 minutes before our international flight was scheduled to leave. There was only one desk with a ticket agent. One blessing is that there was no line, there was no one there at all. I walked up to the ticket agent and asked if we could check-in for our flight. She said no. She was closed. They closed an hour before the flight was scheduled to leave. On the verge of tears I practically begged to be checked in. We stood there begging when another ticket agent came over and said he’d check us in. Hallelujah! Matt and I got our boarding passes and headed to customs. I got through but Matt was held up. It turns out he didn’t have an arrival stamp or a visa into Egypt in his new passport. Immediately I told him I would run and hold the plane for him thinking boarding was practically completed at this point. I took off like a freight train, sprinting through half the airport, luckily a guy in a golf cart picked me up halfway to my gate. I got there and had to wait in security (yes, again) then waited…. And waited… And waited for Matt to show up. He had been taken into police questioning which is never a good thing in Egypt. They had demanded he pay for a new visa but he didn’t have enough cash and he accidentally left his debit card in the apartments and he also checked his police report in his luggage (when it rains it pours, right?). But Mr. M swooped in to save the day and convinced the police through Matt’s cell phone that Matt’s story was true. Practically the last two on the plane we sat down and couldn’t stop laughing and high fiving. What a series of events. But we defied all the obstacles and made it.
The rest of the trip was not nearly as dramatic. We landed, got a van to take us to our hotel, checked in and passed out. The next morning we accidently slept in too long and missed breakfast but we didn’t mind. We grabbed the map and my camera and headed out into the sunny early afternoon. We walked for about 45 minutes along the main road near our hotel before we asked for directions. We asked for the Blue Mosque, our goal for the day, when they told us we had to take a bus there. So for 2 lira (about $1.30) we bought a bus ticket, hopped on and took the main road in the exact opposite direction back towards our hotel. Oops. haha. At our stop we got off and found ourselves in the center of the old city. Oh my goodness, it was breathtaking. After being in Egypt for so long I forgot was grass smelt liked, what fountains sounded like. On that walk towards the Blue Mosque, Matt and I pointed out everything in Istanbul that Egypt wasn’t. I was on cloud nine. The air was clean, the streets were clean, the cars stayed in their lines, there were traffic lights and benches, grass was everywhere, there were even trees and I could hear birds in the air. If this is any indication of what my culture shock is going to be like going back to America my family is in for a good laugh. I was mesmerized. Purely mesmerized. Seeing the inside of the Blue Mosque and later the Basilica Cistern only added to that feeling of wonder and amazement. They were both so beautiful and so well preserved. Egypt could learn a thing or two from Turkey. The following day the excitement continued as we wandered the grounds of the Topkapi Palace. What an amazing place. It reminded me of a real life Cinderella’s Castle, except Kiara would tell you it has none of the same architectural doo-hickeys at all. haha. But inside it was full of mind-blowing items and beautiful artwork. Tiles from the 1400s and gold in some form were in every room, the detail was incredible. The armory housed items from all over Europe and Asia from all different time periods. The military history of the palace might as well have been the history of all of Eurasia. The palace even housed a relics section which supposedly held ancient religious artifacts such as Moses’ staff, the first Caliphs’ swords, and Prophet Mohammed’s beard, robe, and sword among many other belongings. Not to mention items from the Khabah. I found it hard to believe, personally. My favorite part of the entire palace was definitely the treasury. Oh my goodness, it was chock full of rubies, emeralds, jade, pearls, gold, sapphire, and every kind of precious metal and precious stone thinkable. The most prized possession in the treasury? An 86 carat diamond. Yup, I stared. Imagine being proposed to with that bursting out of the ring box? haha.
On Friday, Matt and I explored the coast and took a ferry along the Bosphorous to Kanlica. Kanlica is supposed to be home to the world’s greatest yogurt… but I wasn’t all that impressed. I only ate it because they drowned it in honey and powdered sugar. I’m no yogurt connessuir like Matt is though. He loved the stuff, so it made the trip worth it at least. Unfortunately, we missed the last ferry back to Karikoy from Kanlica BUT we still had one way left on those bus passes we bought when we got lost so we used them to get down to the ferry station across from Karikoy so it all worked out Saturday was spent admiring the gorgeous mosaics of Hagia Sophia. For those that don’t know, Hagia Sophia was built as a church then taken over by Muslims. After seeing the inside of it… I hope Christians take it back one day. The giant wooden billboards with all the Arabic just look so obviously tacky, wrong and obviously out of place with the ancient stone majesty of the place. And the lazy Islamic glasswork inside the long, steep windows frustrated the crap out of me as I imagined how it must have looked with all the gorgeous stained glass murals of early Christendom. This area of the world makes me think about religion too much haha. The next day added to those feelings as I saw the beauty of the Chora Church. It was quite the hike to get there but it was totally worth it. Saturday night we watched Istanbul win the Turkey National Championship futbol match from inside the Port Shield Pub. That was a ton of fun. I felt like I was in England The best part of the night was witnessing the scene in the streets after the game, however. The whole city went nuts. Flags were everywhere, people were hooting and hollerin and cars were honking at anyone wearing the red and gold. It was electric and so much fun to be a part of
On our second to last day in Turkey Matt and I did a LOT of walking. We ventured through the Egyptian Bazaar, bought a ton of lokum, found the Galata Tower and walked along the Istiklal Caddessi which is a high class shopping street in the “New City” of Istanbul. And oh yea, I got caught in a protest!!!! Go figure the odds… I leave Revolution-torn Egypt for the stable, mostly European Turkey and I find myself in a demonstration in Istanbul… haha. Matt and I were eating our lokum (that we bought at the Egyptian bazaar.. ironic?) in Takim Square when all of a sudden people began sprinting by us. Immediately confused we looked up to see a British couple next to us gathering their things and yelling at us to move as well. Quickly we packed up but curiosity got the better of us and before we began running we wanted to know what it was we were running from. That’s when we saw the protestors just on the outside of the square. I still don’t know exactly what they were protesting but I think it had something to do with the events of May 1st/ May Day just 5 days before. Riot police were everywhere. There were two big ol police tanks with a mounted water canon on top of both and they were driving the protestors back away from the square. I was never scared. Shocked, definitely, and my adrenaline was certainly pumping, but I wasn’t scared. Matt and I hung around to take pictures and to see if the small group would come back but since the police shot off tear gas we figured it wasn’t likely so we decided to look for a place to eat and then began making our way back down Istiklal Caddessi. The tear gas hung in the air but it wasn’t too powerful. My nose was a little runny and there was an itch in the back of my throat but most of it had dissipated with the wind. Not far down the road we saw another group of protestors marching towards us and the square. As we turned to head back towards the relative safety of the square the riot police had blocked the end of the street with their shields and the tanks. Uh-oh. That was when the adrenaline really kicked in. I thought we were going to be caught in the clash. But luckily, at the last minute, the protestors ran down a side street in the hopes of outflanking the riot police. It was definitely an exciting way to finish up our vacation haha.
(P.S. I am having serious technical difficulties uploading all the photos to this gallery. I will try to upload the rest of the photos in a separate post. So sorry!)
We spent the majority of our final day shopping for souvenirs and bartering. The highlight of the negotiations took place in the Grand Bazaar when I was on the prowl for a part cashmere, part silk Burberry scarf. It was the only thing I had desperately wanted from Turkey. I found the perfect scarf and asked for the vendor’s price, 50 TL. Ten minutes later I had that guy down to 15. WIN. If nothing else, I will leave Egypt with epic bartering skills. Looks like I am my father’s daughter afterall! haha
The journey to the airport and back to Cairo wasn’t nearly as dramatic as the journey to Istanbul. This was mostly due to the genius planning by us two broke college students to avoid the 30 Euro shuttle fee to the airport. Rather than taking the shuttle, we decided to take the last metro to the airport and hang out there, oh, for about 6.5 hours. haha. Hey, it worked out well. We had no problems getting there or getting on the plane. We landed in Cairo and I paid for Matt’s visa so he would be allowed back into the country, and that was it. We spent the next couple days in Cairo just relaxing and preparing for our upcoming finals (which went pretty well by the way!)
In all, my trip to Istanbul was truly an experience I will never forget. I was so blessed to have had the opportunity to go. Even though it was expensive, it was totally worth it. I got to see and do so many things that not many kids my age ever get the chance to. It also made these last couple weeks fly by and provided a great distraction before the craziness of finals week began.
Thank you for reading and I promise to write on my feelings/emotions about the end of my study abroad experience soon!
Until next time, Ma’a Salaama!
24 hours ago, I left Chefchaouen, the Moroccan mountain city painted blue, to travel back to Egypt for my finals week. The bus took us back to our first Moroccan city, Casablanca, which we left after rapidly spending 2 days to step foot in Meknes, Fes, and Chefchaouen. Though we landed in Casa in the dark on May 1st, the cab ride back from the airport revealed at hyper-warp speed what we had always believed: the Arab World, North Africa, the Middle East and Western Asia share only broad the frameworks of Islam, Formal Arabic, and being formerly colonized states and otherwise are gloriously different. The infrastructure of Morocco amazed me after a semester of loving Egypt for her abandoned infrastructure from an age of investment long past that melts back into the ground. The roads were smooth highways organized by lanes that unknown reasons drivers actually abided by. Catching a train was nothing close to the sport it can be in Egypt. As much as I hate how Egyptians out of the kindness of their hearts will try to speak English with me and how perfuse it feels though it truly isn’t, English has barely taken root in Egypt compared to French’s hybrid development on the Moroccan tongue.
In two of the smaller cities we visited, Chefchaouen and Meknes, the older generation caught me by surprise. When I bought a lot of food from local stands in the old parts of the cities (Medina) determining the price become a sticky spot. Not because they were charging me anything but fair and inexpensive prices but because on three different instances the shopkeeper did not know Arabic numbers. A generation below first used French numerals, not just because I am a foreigner but seemly as a preference. However, when I asked to hear the number again in Arabic (as I speak just about as much French as Moulin Rouge teaches) they repeated in Arabic, cocking their head at the foreigner who by all standards should be speaking French not Arabic. I believe they must have been Amazighry (Moroccan Berbers) as many reject Arabic and refuse to speak it altogether, however I did not know this at the time. If I ever have the luck to go back to Morocco (in’shallah) I will definitely learn French numbers for myself as that is the norm. Yet, I am still so curious about this older generation of 60 and older. At the train station the older Moroccans in line ahead of me at the automated ticket machine requested help to work the machines. I don’t attribute this to techno-phobia as the helpful younger Moroccans were reading the screen’s options out to the older Moroccans, who stared in no particular direction, not trying at all to decipher the screen. I’m going to do some research, post-finals, so please ask me when I see you next. By my estimations it post likely revolves around education or access to eye-care and glasses, or a combination there of, but most likely the former.
Having gotten that question off my chest let me tell you how much Morocco felt like home, felt like California, well the hippie small agricultural and hippie town side of Southern California that I know (not LA). It was not just the great citrus and produce, and proximity to the ocean. It was the fresh air blowing in a cool night against the heat of sunny afternoon, the brilliant magenta sunsets (at the absurdly late hour of 9), and the transformative sky marked with dramatic clouds and free of smog and haze. A disclaimer is necessary: my senses nestled right at home in Morocco. Beyond everything reminding me of Ojai and California, breezes would sweep me back to summers in Alaska with my family. Don’t ask me how I can have found the smells of the Alaskan summer tundra in the streets of Morocco because I do not know. But I guess if in each breath we inhale one particle was exhaled in Julius Caesar’s dying breath, then my Alaskan air claims are not as far fetched.
I enjoyed Morocco and long to go back for a much longer stay, especially to learn their beautiful sh filled Arabic dialect but I am also so glad to be back in Egypt. I only wish I knew her before the revolution, so that I could understand the differences. Egyptians tell me what life was like, the old rhythm, the good and the bad, the stable and the oppressive, allowing me to adjust my lenses and take note of the differences. Yet, this is only a conduit experience. Seeing Morocco tripped a flood of questions about what Egypt was like, what she will become, and how what I saw in Morocco compares. The nearly five months I’ve spent in Egypt seem so small—Egypt is the land of the Pharos after all—and thus 10 days in Morocco was barely more than the length of time are eyes kept open in an eyestaring constant that always comes to a close too early with a desperate blink. My acknowledgement of time notwithstanding, the energy of the Moroccan people completely contrasted that of the Egyptians: the sh’bab (youth) are not menacing, tourists exist and what’s more are daily economic opportunities not rare creatures escaped from the zoo rampant on the streets provoking stares and the internal debate of going up to rescue, pet, capture, or taunt them.
My uncle taught me long ago one of the most interesting things to notice with new cultures and groups of people are whom they joke about, compare themselves to, and have stereotypes about. (Not that I ever want to perpetuate stereotypes but this question often reveals interesting kernels about the speaker’s identity and self-definition.) Since I am studying in Egypt and give that information away much more freely than my American citizenship, out of a desire to speak no English, paranoia and the shear fun of pretending to be Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, German…etc, a couple Moroccans emphatically dished the dirt on Egypt. The first words out, pace Egypt, were always positive “Egypt, the mother of us all” or “Egyptians, the best people.” However, the praise always turned around to reveal a conjoined twin “Egypt is the mother of us all…and Morocco is the father.” I also heard the infamous words spoken by every different native speaker of an Arabic dialect: our dialect is closer than all others to Formal Arabic because… I’ve been told to discredit, internally, these claims made by all (Levantine, Gulf, Iraqi, Syrian, Egyptian, Tunisian, Libyan, Algerian, and Moroccan colloquial speakers) because thanks to extensive research many linguistics say no colloquial Arabic is more related to the Formal Arabic spoken by the Quarish tribe and standardized in the Qur’an than another one. The colloquial languages diverge at different points but do not stray further than another sister or brother dialect. This is not to say speakers understand different dialects with the same ease. Understanding different Arabic dialects depends greatly on how many Egyptian soap operas you’ve seen.
Moroccan cities made the demarcation of medina and new city clear, enveloping the medina in ancient walls. With the exception of the city of the dead in Cairo, which is a slum in a graveyard, Egyptian cities merge and flow between the ancient and the new sections of the city. The azhan (Egyptian pronunciation of the call to prayer) sounded softly across Morocco’s cities. Beautiful minarets still broke out across the city line (yes, I’m talking to you Zoe SL). I conclude with some more sights to behold. Now, go check your calendar, find when you are going to visit Morocco for yourself, and if your calendar takes issue with my promise you’ll find yourself in a lavender haze in Morocco, take a tip from our friends in 15th and 17th century Prague, and defenestrate it!
One of the things that fascinates people is foreign food, the allure of something so ostentatiously not normal during a time and practice that most feel is obviously normal. In a grotesque sense, this is the American scoping out the foreign McDonald’s for abnormalities in the menu. I’m not really interested in taking photos of food and declaring to people “look at the funny/yummy/adjective things I’m eating!”, nor does my disposition favor that typical blogging direction, but, nonetheless, I’ve decided to list some of the more interesting cuisine I’ve quaffed in Chile. In a country as large as Chile it would be foolish to claim dishes are static. The north sees an increased use of quinoa and mango, both of which are produced in a region whose food is sometimes closer to Peruvian cuisine. The south, on the other hand, tends to have a greater influence of mapuche culinary practices as well as certain crops only endemic to that area —for instance, Chiloe is said to produce the best potatoes in the world and is a staple of southern Chile’s diet. That said, the middle region enjoys the splendors of all other areas (plus a wealth of tomatoes) and, even then, many dishes are consistent only with region product substitutions. With some of the anthropology out of the way it’s time to move on to the food:
Fresh corn, basil, onion and sometimes pepper are combined to form a masa harina that is placed inside a horn husk that is folded and tied together with it’s own loose ends so that it looks like a small parcel. On occasion sugar is added to the inside to make the mixture sweet. The whole this is boiled and then served wrapped, usually with fresh tomato slices or a spicy sauce, sometimes sauteed vegetables.
Pastel de choclo
A paste of sweet corn is lain on top of a filling that Chileans call pino —or protein (beef or, in my case, soy protein) mixed with onion and paprika— which is on top of a layer of cooked eggs (some also add olives and/or raisins to this layer). The whole thing is baked together until the top layer is a crispy golden brown.
Baked potato surrounding cheese and mushrooms, packed together in a small, oval shape, cooked until golden brown on the outside —at which point the potato mixture has a consistency that resembles friend dough— and then topped with powdered sugar. Sometimes meat is used as a filler as well.
If a group of people are talking, their conversations so passionate and involved that an outsider coming into the circle would result in them hearing a chaotic mess of garbled tales and no clear connections then what has manifested is charquicán. In culinary terms this came to signify any large mass of vegetables and spices cooked together in a similar way that a stir-fry might signify a general umbrella term under which a cook’s creativity can flourish. Now there are some staples of the dish, which include: potato, pumpkin, corn, and onion. Other favorites to add are peas, spinach, and peppers —though again, anything goes. Sometimes the whole mess is served with a fried egg on top and it is nearly always eaten with a side of onions in ceviche. Personally, I think it works best when a ton of merkén is added.
Carbonatta is simply a variant of the charquicán dish, adding more rice and more water with the goal of having a more stew-esque mixture. Some eve say Cazuela —a stew with one full half of corn, one large half of a potato, large slice of pumpkin, and large piece of meat in a broth— is a third variant of this family of dishes, all of which bear names that have the same origin.
With a quick glance the red skin, smooth texture, and green stem of fruit look like a tomato. The caqui comes from a tree found throughout Chile, one whose fruits do not really begin to mature until the leaves have fallen off ––most farmers take advantage of this, picking the fruits while still green so as to get them to market before they ripen, but if one were to encounter the tree naturally they would find a beautiful silver-grey tree surrounded by dried leaves and holding a wealth of red-orange fruits. Most Chileans buy the fruit and let it mature for days in their houses; once it is a bright red-orange, soft, and the body is practically melting off the stem the two are pulled apart, the skin peeled down like when one opens a banana, and the insides are eaten with a spoon. The marmalade-esque texture is complemented by a flavor that combines the Chinese persimmon with a hint of a mango. It is subtly sweet, smooth, and easily confusable with a prepared desert.
On the outside it looks like a slightly longer, smother lime. Inside it has the texture of a slightly tougher, and less mushy, banana. The taste is mildly acidic, sweet and yet slightly sour at the same time, conjuring flavors of guava, strawberry, and pineapple with a pleasant (and noticeable) aftertaste of wintergreen. Perhaps one of the most enjoyable things about eating a feijoa is that as soon as it is cut the aroma fills the room, this particular fruit does not have a smell that one would expect as in genuinely smells like a fine perfume (with your eyes closed you could not tell the difference).
When mature the pale yellow skin is highlighted with purple strips that look like the result of a quick attempt to paint the fruit in a more attractive manner. The flavor recalls a mix of honeydew melon and cucumber, perhaps some papaya.
Oblong-ish, oval, and somewhat smooth it feels similar to an avocado when ripe (though is the size of a grapefruit). Inside it has a white, creamy flesh filled with black seeds. Remove them and one is free to eat the flesh which tastes of banana, pineapple, papaya, peach, and strawberry and has the marvelous texture of good sherbet.
Small, reddish (or purplish) berries that were called “Uni” by the Mapuche who first harvested them (they are only found in southern Chile). It has the texture of a creamier Asian pear with an equally sweet flavor ––kinda like a mix between strawberries and vanilla cream with a strong presence of guava. Some Chileans say it tastes like cotton candy.
There’s no one way to make these pastries that originated on the Iberian peninsula, but one thing is for sure they no longer adhere to the traditional Spanish recipe (this is due to the lack of availability of ingredients in early South America). They almost always have manjar/dulce del leche and can have fruit marmalade included. The desert is two round biscuits joined together by manjar or fruit, the whole thing is then covered in powdered sugar or, more often, some type of chocolate. Sweet, soft, and addicting.
Murta con mebrillo/ descarcasada
In the first the fruit and the grain (usually something like quinoa) are cooked together with sugar; the water comes out of the fruit and joins with the sugar to make a sweet syrup for the murta and quinoa to be consumed in. The other one has peaches de-pitted and cooked with sugar to make a syrup that they are left in. When ready to consume they are poured into a bowl with a grain like quinoa and eaten. The mixture of soft fruit, sweet juice, and slightly tougher grains makes the dish an interesting one to consume.
Bourbon cookies from Tip top
Although these can only be found in Viña del mar they are certainly worth mentioning, The name says it all, tip top makes a thin, crispy cookie out of little more than bourbon, butter, and sugar. Everyone says it is best to eat them fast before they loose their crispiness ––if nothing else, it’s a good excuse to quaff them down.
“Everybody’s been there, everybody’s been stared down
By the enemy
Fallen for the fear and done some disappearing
Bow down to the mighty
Don’t run, stop holding your tongue
Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live
Maybe one of these days you can let the light in
Show me how big your brave is
Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave
With what you want to say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave”
My sincerest apologies for the long delay in blog posts!! Know that I haven’t abandoned you dear readers, its just that I’ve been busy with my life here and haven’t had the time to write the update I think you all deserve But things have been going very well for me these past few weeks. Here are a couple highlights:
*Following what’s going on in my classes better, I even raised my hand and made a contribution in my film class last week! I explained the technology behind green screens (not very eloquently but they got my point) Classes here are different, there is definitely less pressure to pay attention and to work hard. I’m not held accountable for nearly as much in my classes here as I am in my classes at Brandeis. Also, students here may not take their final exam for a class for months after the course has ended, so they have plenty of time to study the material. However, the language factor makes the classes challenging enough, so I’m grateful for the easier workload!
*Going to a free salsa class where I actually learned how to dance a little better, and met some interesting people!
*Having a lot of interesting conversations with members of my host family and with my Argentine friends, about everything from life values and cultural differences, to movie plots and food preparation! I’m very grateful that my Spanish is at a point where I can ask difficult questions and understand complicated answers, it makes my experience here much more educational.
*Building good relationships with the people who work at the elementary school where I volunteer. I do one on one English tutoring as well as help lead the 6th grade English class. I’m finding it more challenging than I anticipated to teach English in a way that is truly valuable, I have a tendency to use words that the students don’t know yet, or I’m tempted to speak to them in Spanish when they’re struggling because I can. But each week I’m learning more and I know this information will be very valuable when I go back to the US and work with English Language Learners there!
*Finding some nice parks and plazas to go running and to read outside. Sometimes I just need to get out of the house, and having favorite spots near my house helps a lot!
*Getting pizza with my friends two celebrate being in Argentina for 2 months! It both feels like a long time and a short time to be in another country, but I’m grateful to have more time to enjoy my Argentine experience! Also, pizza in Argentina is really good!
*Befriending a group of Argentines who have invited a group of us to drink mate, and to have an asado (barbeque). They are really cool, interesting people and I hope to keep getting to know them better!
*Going to a Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israeli Independence day) celebration in Mendoza with my host dad! It was really cool to hear Israeli music in Argentina, and to get a better senese of the Jewish community here, it reminded me a lot of my Jewish communities back in the states, and made me a little homesick!
*Our program director, José, bringing back peanut butter from his trip to the US! Peanut Butter doesn’t really exist here (dulce de leche all the way!) so I miss it a lot!
*Having an interfaith dinner with some of my friends! I made challah, a Jewish bread eaten on Shabbat, on my own for the first time. My friends loved it, and we had a really interesting discussion about holidays and religions over home cooked food! I love all things interfaith, so I was really excited about getting to have an interfaith experience here in Argentina!
*Discovering the wonders of coffee (I’ve never been a coffe drinker until I came to Argentina, now I don’t know what I would do without it!)
* Random acts of kindness that make a huge difference, like the guy who sensed I was trying to get to the university and told me I needed to get off the bus now or I’d end up in the middle of nowhere, or the Argentines who walk me through every step of photocopying a book from the library or preparing for an exam, or who invite me into their homes and their lives. Each small, positive interaction I have goes a long way in making me feel more comfortable and less like a stranger to this city. They may never know how much I appreciate their kindness, but I’ll try to show my gratitude as much as I can!
Finally, a big highlight of the last few weeks was my trip to Chile last weekend! I went with three other girls from my program, one of whom had actually lived in Chile in high school. We spent two days in Santiago and two days in Valparaiso. I really loved both cities, but Valparaiso blew me away. It’s just endless hills and hills of colorful houses, think San Francisco times ten. We saw a lot of the sights, Pablo Neruda’s house, La Moneda, el Mercado Central, but we also did a lot of wandering around, and shopping! I have most of my souvenirs purchased now, and about half of them are for me
But also, traveling to a different country for the first time without any kind of adult supervision was really empowering, and my ability to make new friends in a new culture and accent in only a few days made me feel like I’m capable of a lot more than I thought. It inspires me to keep travelling and having new experiences.
I came back from my trip pretty wiped out, so this week has been a bit more low-key to help recover. But starting next week I’m ready to get back out there and push my comfort zone a little more. I’ve done more during this adventure than I thought possible but I still have two months to go and I want to see how far I can go!
I leave you with the lyrics from the new single by my favorite song artist, Sara Bareilles, “Brave”. This song is already one of my all time favorites, I love its message of putting yourself out there as you truly are and letting your voice be heard. It’s a lot harder to “say what you want to say” in a new language and culture, but little by little I’m learning how to speak my truth, and learning to surround myself with people who will hear it.
“And since your history of silence
Won’t do you any good
Did you think it would?
Let your words be anything but empty
Why don’t you tell them the truth?
Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave
With what you want to say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave
I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I wanna see you be brave
I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I wanna see you be brave
I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I wanna see you be brave
I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you”